City Lights

Nuclear Energy, Seeing the Light

The law firm Hogan Lovells hosted a book launch and panel discussion for Ambassador Thomas Graham on November 6. His book, “Seeing the Light, The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” is a good read and an important effort. The panel discussion included Senator John Warner and the former COO and vice chairman of Constellation Energy, Mike Wallace. I thought Mike Wallace’s comment about the nuclear energy industry getting over our phobia about talking about nuclear weapons interesting. While he is right in that we need to discuss energy, national security, and nuclear technology together, I think this kind of message is okay for policy makers but not the general public. I also wonder what the industry is thinking with their new ad campaign (Nuclear. Power the Extraordinary). Their target audience is DC policymakers and opinion leaders. These people know plants are closing down, not opening, and the new builds are in a world of hurt. The two units at Plant Vogtle in Georgia were projected to cost 14 billion, now add on 6 billion in cost overruns, and the Summer units being built in South Carolina might never be completed. These problems are not just found in the US, but also in other countries. Does this sound Extraordinary? I don’t mean to be negative, just realistic. These problems, including the bankruptcy of Westinghouse, are what the general public is hearing.I think what is needed, regarding nuclear energy messaging, is a focus on the clean air benefits, the need for reliable 24/7 carbon-free baseload power, the importance of energy diversity and electricity grid stability. This is more of a “workmen like” message for nuclear energy. While nuclear energy was extraordinary in the 1950’s, and yes there are some very interesting new technologies under development especially in the small modular reactor world, nuclear energy today is just simply needed, along with renewables, if we are going to address climate change and provide more electricity as demand grows.

Senator Warner and Mr. Wallace are right that industry and the Trump administration need to work better together. As they said, there are only good reasons why “Making America Great Again” should include making American nuclear energy great again. But let’s not forget public opinion. There needs to be a better, bigger and more sustained effort to inform the public about the essential and fundamental benefits of nuclear energy.